"Dark Stag" - Chapter 3

Everyone was so surprised that I was the first one out on the balcony this morning. In all honesty, I don’t know what brought me here. Upon a second thought, burying my head in the pillows of bed seemed like a better idea but I couldn’t leave now. The family was starting to arrive. Mother sat directly in front of me, at a loss for words. My sister and brother came and sat beside me, too mistified by my presence. This didn’t feel very welcoming at all.
“Where’s Kijus?” Brija asked. My stomach jarred at the thought of him.
“He left last night.” Richard said. My jaw dropped.
“Left, what do you mean left?” I asked.
“He was furious for whatever reason, I begged him to stay but he was spent on leaving,” Richard said, “So I gave him maps.”
“MAPS???” I yelled.
“Yeah, he was seriously spent. If he didn’t want to stay here any longer I was not one to force him to stay…so I did what was only right.” Richard responded.
“He seriously left?” I asked myself, surprised. There was a building void developing in my chest.
“I saw him walk off. I stayed out here mostly all night. I didn’t see him come back so I guess he’s gone.” Richard said.
“Why’d he leave… and why were you out here all night?” Mother asked. The amount of confusion and disappointment on her face was slicing layers off of me. I messed up bad. Richard shook his head, obviously not wanting to talk about it. Something else had to happen that night, and Richard was holding it in.
“Roi,” Brija called out, “Did you do…anything that made Kijus angry?” I looked at her glaringly.
“No!!!!” I hissed. Richard then leaned back, staring at the biscuits on the table. He was really deep in thought.
“Well, you better fix it because he was training your raptor!” Mother demanded.
“Ma.” I sighed.
“Your father will not be pleased if he finds out that Kijus left… You better do something.” She continued. Rolling my eyes, I got up and left the table. I went back into the palace, heading up the stairs to his room. He was not there. I then left, heading back down to the balcony, shaking my head.
“He’s not up stairs.” I sighed. Faced with my mother’s scolding eyes, I made my way down across the field and to the stables. On a workbench, four map parcels lay. I then searched the entire stable for him. Surprisingly, Rejon was still here. Would Kijus leave Rejon behind?
“He left his stag.” A voice said from behind. I turned surprise to see it was Richard.
“Why are you here?” I hissed.
“Mother was hammering me with too many damn questions. I decided to come and help.” Richard said.
“Why don’t you tell me,” I began, “what you and Kijus discussed last night? Knowing you, you probably wanted to steal him from right up under me.”
“No!” Richard pleaded, “It’s not like that! I begged him not to leave. I wouldn’t stand a chance of getting him! He was barely willing to talk last night. He’s…He’s in a league of his own.” The statement came across as odd.
“Oh…” I said.
“I heard what happened last night…” Richard said, arms folded, looking on with his typical condescending glare.
“Do I look like I want to be ridiculed right about now?” I asked.
“I’m not. That’s done with. You just should have read a bit on his beliefs before you tried to dive on him. I did and decided not to even try it. Yesterday, what I heard epitomized my fears.”
“He’s a virgin, Roi. He plans on remaining a virgin until he’s wed. What you did was not only offensive but it violated his entire religious purpose. There’s no telling what he would have done if that situation would have took a turn for the worse.” He explained. I seldom felt guilty but this did it to me.
“He had my dagger,” I said, “at his own throat. I just thought…”
“You messed up, Roi. We got to find him and hope he’ll listen. You better have an apology ready.” Richard interrupted, clenching his head.
We went to the aviary expecting to see him there in one of the pins. He was nowhere to be seen. We looked in Silver’s enclosure and Silver was gone. This all was so crushing to me.
“He took Silver!” I cried.
“We don’t know that yet!” Richard said, trying to keep a level head. He patted me on the back, urging me to continue. For hours, we searched any and everywhere within the upper ring. We couldn’t find him.
“This is hopeless…” I said.
“No.” Richard said, deep in thought, “There is something we haven’t tried.”
“What?” I asked.
“Rejon.” He said.
We ran back to the stable where Rejon was chewing on cud.
“This thing tracked him down over hundreds of miles. Surely it can find him within the city.” Richard said, untying the giant stag from the post. He then opened the gate, letting him free.
“Find Kijus!” I said to the thing. The big lumbering beast simply walked leisurely out into the pasture. It laid eyes on a horse and grew tense. I ran up to it quickly, grabbing its reins.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I said, hoping to calm the giant antelope down. Rejon snorted then turned. He yanked his reins out of my hands and began walking away from the horses. We followed him for hours. He’d stop periodically to feed.
“This is so not working…” I said frustratingly.
“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Richard said, as Rejon began sniffing the air, his head held high. The stag began walking once again. Hopelessly, we followed him to the northern hills.
Indeed, the stag had led us to Kijus who was sitting in the pasture, tickling Bazahra. Rejon gave a short bugle, drawing Kijus’s attention. He was not pleased to see us.
“We thought you left.” Richard said, full of relief.
“You honestly thought I’d leave Rejon?” He asked, turning back to pet the bird. She had leaned into it intensely, full of ecstasy at the boy’s touch. I longed for him to touch me that way. I looked on in misery that this bird was getting more affection from him then I ever would. Why was I so hot for him? Why couldn’t these feelings go away!
“Well, why didn’t you leave?” Richard asked.
“You knew what your ass was doing with those maps. They were utterly confusing. I then sat down and thought about something and decided that, if I somehow managed to get into the lower rings, I’d have to survive in the desert.” He said dryly.
“So, you’re staying?” Richard continued.
“Yeah, I thought about what you said and decided to stay for this guy right here.” Kijus smiled. It confused me.
“What?” Richard asked.
“Silver!!!” He clarified, turning to look at Richard. Both of our jaws fell.
“That’s Silver?” Richard said.
“Yeah, I put him on a spool so he couldn’t get away from me and took him on a walk. The only thing he likes are these rub downs. So far he hasn’t tried to fly, just wanting nothing but for his feathers to be picked at.”  He explained.
“You do have a way with raptors.” Richard chuckled.
“This bird was so lonely. He would see all of those other raptors around him so privileged and he got really beside himself. He truly had no one and this right here is all he’s ever wanted…someone to bond with who’d never hurt him. I feel so bad for him… After all these years, he’s finally getting love.” Kijus said. The words were heavy on me. They not only applied to poor little silver, but me as well. I’ve been feeling this way for a long time. The difference between Silver and I though is that Silver got this longed for affection. I still didn’t know if mine would ever come. Tears began to well in my eyes as standing here became hard. I had to leave.
Just as I was making my silent getaway,  Richard grabbed my arm. He pulled me back, knowing precisely why these tears ran down my cheeks.
“Um…Kijus.” Richard said. Kijus was facing Silver, oblivious to what was happening behind him.
“Yes?” He asked.
“To bury the hatchet,” Richard said, struggling against me, “Can you say you forgive Roi?” Hearing his choppy breathing, Kijus turned to view us. We both froze, caught off guard by the awkwardness of the situation.
“I just want to tell you something,” He said to me, “I see the kind of person you are, your lack of respect for anything other than yourself… I can’t even blame you for being this way. It’s how you were raised! With that being said, I will ask this. Are you going to sit about and mope in your misery or learn something new and grow as a person? I don’t get your tears or know what’s going on in your life, but I want respect and if you can’t give me that then my point of being here is null…”
“Understood.” I said, sniffling.
“Now get over here and show your bird some love.” He demanded.
I got on my knees and the bird’s alert eyes locked onto me. I was definitely terrified, knowing this bird can do some incredible damage. It then made its way over to me.
“Stroke the underside of its breast.” He said. Cautiously reaching for the bird, I tickled its skin under its feathers. The bird quickly got into it, ruffling its feathers and chattering wildly, eyes closed completely in comfort.
Kijus looked up to the sky for some reason.
“These things are super social…Most raptors would slice you open for petting them but these things love it…so strange…” He said still looking up at the sky.
“What you looking at?” I asked.
“Bazahra, she is hauling all kinds of ass up there for no damn reason.” He said.
“I have no idea.” He laughed.
“Is Silver aware of her?” I asked.
“I haven’t introduced them yet. She’s seen him though but I’m not sure if he’s seen her. I’m a bit scared…he may not be well socialized enough. I’d want to see how he treats smaller raptors first then move on to a great black eagle to see how he handles being around a raptor closer to his size.”
“I seriously thought this bird would have nailed you by now.” Richard teased.
“No, but when he first seen outside, he nearly yanked my arm out my socket a hand full of times…I had to put up with it until he got tired which took about ten minutes…he’s a fat little thing. If he and Bazahra were to meet, she could get away from him fairly quickly.” He said continuing to laugh.
“How long does Bazahra last in full tilt?” Richard asked.
“The longest I’ve seen her fly at top speed was when she tortured a gazelle for forty damn minutes before she finally killed it…”
“Forty minutes?” My brother and I said, astounded.
“Yeah but after that, she was done for about a day. I had to let her eat the gazelle.” He laughed.
“I just can’t believe you use raptors for hunting.” Richard said. Kijus turned to him.
“And I can’t believe you use raptors for sport… At least my birds do what they do in the wild…” He said defensively.
“You should watch our teams compete today.” Richard smiled.
“Ok.” Kijus responded with more interest than I would have figured. I walked away, unsure what just happened.
Several hours had elapsed. The bleachers were filled as the jockeys stood on the field with their raptors sitting high on the perches on their back. Many of the spectators were from a neighboring kingdom called the Caspian Ziggurat. This was because the game about to take place was between us, the Southern Ziggurat and the Caspian Ziggurat! The Caspian riders had many of the royal family as members of the team. They were known as the Sarushians, a very regal but bold group of people, known for their fair, but sporty ways. Only one member of our family stood on the southern team and that was Richard.
The game was not only a ridiculously complicated even, requiring physical strength, endurance and conning! It was an intricate game of silent war between us, the Bourgions, and the Sarushians. Conflict over fertile lands, slave trading and debts have lead to hundreds of years of conflict between our families. However, for the past century or two, this game has been played in an effort to remember peace and the long twisted legal articles the kings have to sign each growing season. My father played, his father played and so did his before that. It was tradition.
Now it was my brother’s turn. For many years, he had trained and trained for these games. They were intense, requiring not only uncanny skill, but talent… a talent I lacked. I wasn’t terrible at this game but, the game had one major thing that I couldn’t adjust to. It had to be played with long wings, and training long wings is a very tedious, painstaking and life-long process that I didn’t want to commit to. That was what separated Richard and I. He has patience, and understanding, something I longed for but never truly grasped. His patience was evident by the long wait for the game to commence.   
After forty minutes of waiting, an official riding on the back of a zebra, stood between the two teams. Each team member was in specific locations, taking on specific roles in this complex game. The official slowly reached into his bag. He pulled out the lure and sling aiming high in the sky. Tensions were high as the tossup began. The falcons and kites bobbed their heads calculating flight distance and anticipation for the sling release. The elastic sling was pulled back to its maximum load out.
The official whistled then released, sending the sling high into the air. All the raptors took off in a steep vertical climb. Each had a specific color ribbon on to discern which team and which roll the bird played. The kites had much lower wing loading than the falcons so they excelled in vertical climbs. However, they weren’t as muscular. What they lacked in physique, they made up for in unparalleled agility. The falcons were robust, stout and relatively short tailed except a handful. Their wings differed from the kites by being a bit broader at the base, narrower near the primaries and more pointed wingtips, rather than tapered.
That wasn’t the case for all though. My brother’s red-breasted falcon was very kite-like in shape but had relatively higher wing loading. It was the most remarkable raptor in the vertical ascent; it’s relatively broad and crooked wings pumped after the sling. The tapered wingtips had phalangeal feathers which gave the bird even more lift. As it ascended on wings flapping four times a second, it almost looked like a large buteo, maybe even an eagle. None the less, it and the kites took the lead.
You had to be a hell of a bird to catch a vertically ascending lure launched from a sling but my brother’s falcon managed to do so. As soon as it did, it broke into a breathtaking dive. My brother held out his, hand perch for the bird to land on with the lure. As he did, many of competing team’s jocks charged with their horses, ready to strike my brother with their canes. It was all in an effort to keep his bird from perching. Before they could come close, many of his team members stood to meet the imposing jocks, blocking with their canes.
At the same time, all the raptors were in a dive, all spiraling out the sky. The red-breast struggled to outpace some of the heavier bodied falcons. What the bird lacked in sheer diving prowess, it met with extreme agility at high speed. He was able to outpace the impending kites in his dive and out maneuver the plumper falcons in the intense spiral.
It looked like a big aerial melee but truthfully, it was one of the most coordinated sights one could ever see. Half of the raptors diving after the red-breast seemed as though they were pursuing the lure, but actually were attempting to wedge themselves between it and other chasing raptors. Why?  Because these raptors were able to identify the red-breast as a team member! It was a feat of vigorous training for these birds.
Behavior between the raptors would become more violent as the ground neared. My brother watched, his horse galloping at full tilt! He still had his hand perch up. The red-breasts’ spirals became wider as it came lower to the ground. Some of the plumper falcons were not keen on flying so fast near the trampling feet of the horses. The red-breast disappeared under the gait of one horse only to swoop up and land on the hand perch of my brother.
It was now the game could really take off. My brother’s horse made a mad dash to the goal. This was where the kites came into play. The smaller bodied kites could keep the heavy bodied falcons at bay by flying circles around them. Birds dueled in the sky, slamming into one another at fifty and sixty miles an hour, hovering in bouts, too nervous to come into contact with one another. The kites and falcons of my brother’s team were keeping the kites and falcons of the competing team away from the red-breast with the lure.
On the ground, it was pretty much the same thing. The only way a goal could be made was when a raptor and a rider entered the neted ring together. It was a perilous effort to score, though. A jock could use his hand perch to trick a raptor with a lure to come to his side and change the tide of the game. Each team had smaller, more nimble jockeys and horses that didn’t score… No, they simply were speedy defense and quick offense. Many a time, a jockey would have one eye on his bird circling above and another on the field before him. He’d whistle commands to his fast reacting bird, the two behaving like one!
The raptors were imprinted on their handler’s voice, knowing precisely when they were prompted. As my brother neared the goal, a speedy offensive jockey slipped past defense gearing to steal my brother’s raptor. With no choice left a defending team member called onto his white-winged kite to mob the offensive jockey.
The fierce bird, having seven and a half feet of high profile wings which shimmered in the dimming light, startled the horse as it swooped inches by its face. The horse came to a sudden halt, nearly throwing the jockey. The kite hovered inches in front of the horse, ready to cut it off at every turn. The kite was doing it’s job, using those massive wings shimmering wings to startle the horse. There was no passing the kite, the Jockey on his last leg!
With no choice left, the jockey called onto his falcon with a loud triplet of whistles. Suddenly the kite accelerated rapidly, coursing at speeds nearing fifty miles an hour. Like a missile, a sooty falcon, one of the fastest birds in the world, came screeching after the kite! The kite continued to hug the ground as the darting falcon streaked towards it. With ease, the kite inverted with talons outstretched causing the falcon to abort its attack. The kite did this breathtaking maneuver at extremely high speed with only three feet of space separating it from the ground. The momentum from the inversion brought up it’s altitude.
It banked hard, its wings pumping it to nearly sixty miles an hour. The kite came back for the jockey, ready to startle his skittish horse again. The sooty falcon came back for another pass, wings tucked, screeching at speeds surpassing one hundred fifty miles an hour. The kite barely was able to dodge the dive bomb. Its beak was kicked by the falcon, causing the bird to nearly spiral out of control. Such a mishap would have been catastrophic for such a light weight bird.
The fight was now on! As soon as the kite’s high pitched whistle glissando into a blood curdling screech could be heard, we all knew there was about to be an aerial battle… And truth be told, it was a more than even match! Despite the sooty falcon being a third smaller than the kite, both weighed four and a half pounds, had short stubby legs with long powerful talons and very high flight speeds.
Several Jockey’s caught sight of the ill move and began to call for the official. However, it was too late… During the confusion, my brother and his red-breast scored the first goal. It did little to stop two raptors from squabbling in the air. The white-winged kite was a much more intelligent bird than the sooty falcon. It knew the falcon had an advantage in diving, due to its slick streamlining. However, the kite had the advantage as long as it stayed over the falcons head. The falcon tried to ascend to get to an altitude where it could dive but the kite headed it off. The falcon had to make a sudden bank to avoid angry talons. Overwhelmed by a bird that appeared much larger than it, the falcon let out loud whooping whelps for help.
“Call your raptors, reset!” The referee had stated.
All the jockeys held up their hand perches and whistled for their birds. Their birds all came down, swooping to their perches as the jockeys and their horses got into position. I looked at Kijus who simply looked mind boggled.
“This is one of the craziest, most amazing things I’ve ever seen.” He said.
“So, how do you feel about this?” I asked.
“You mean the human and raptor interaction? I say the bond is ridiculously strong between them! The birds are getting more than enough stimuli and it’s just damn fun to watch!” He said back. I was astounded. I thought he’d be opposed to this on every level.
“Heh,” I chuckled, “I thought you’d be against this in every way.”
“I mean, I was raised to believe that everything must fill its natural role and nothing but…but I don’t like to think that way. I mean, look how happy those damn raptors are!” He smiled. His eyes glistened with passion, delighted to see content raptors.
The game lasted for two hours and it was intense the whole way through. The lure had been juggled between raptors and riders so much the score eventually was two to three, opposing team loses against defending team by one point. However, due to several recurring penalties from both riders and raptors, the rep knocked both scores down to zero and a rematch was scheduled for next month. It made tensions rise between the Caspian people and the Southern people.  
While verbal slurs were transferred, Kijus ran off, ready to help the short-wing falconers train their birds. I didn’t want to bother to follow him. Jon, a short-wing falconer, was someone I didn’t want to see! I burned that bridge well enough after he said such cruel words to me! However, the turnout wasn’t much different from Kijus. The difference was that…well…Kijus had this presence about him that seemed so free and I don’t want to barge on his freedom. Jon completely led me on; let me feel for him and then took it all away! I just wasn’t ready to forgive him just yet, maybe not ever…  
I went into the aviary to talk to my brother. He and his little clique of long-wing falconers joked around as I entered their locker room.
“That boy with the big ass long wing is weird as fuck.” Robin said as he took off his chain link suit.
“I know…” Richard laughed, sounding sad to admit it. He slid down the chainmail tights.
“Like, who the fuck rides a stag?” Snare asked.
“That thing is badass though!” Richard responded.
“That thing is fucking Satan. It triedsto kill a horse every time it sees one!” Snare continued.
“And why does he act so debonair like he’s the best falconer here?” Robin pondered.
“Yeah, it pissed me off when he was sitting there in the stands with this look as if he was soooooo unimpressed. Where the hell is that kid now?” Miles asked as he stretched on the floor.
“Um…” I chimed in, “Well, he is the best falconer… not that he even calls himself one.”
All eyes fell on me. The three boys looked at me, not at all pleased with my presence.
“So did he like the game? He ran off before I got the chance to ask him.” Richard asked.
“Yeah, he said he was surprised…you all do a damn well job.” I said back. All four boys looked at one another.
“Um…” Miles began, “I doubt he said that…if he did he would have stayed.”
“No, he has to work with the short wings. They are the problem birds so…” I said back. The boy’s eyes fell on Richard as they hoped he’d shoo me away.
“That is one busy ass boy.” Richard sighed as he slid down on the floor, down into a middle split. The three boys hid their shock, unsure why Richard was actually being nice to me.
“Whose white winged kite was that?” I asked. Miles stuck his hand up, looking at me with uncertainty.
“That’s a bad ass bird of yours…That barrel roll it did three feet above the ground was just amazing.” I said, taking a seat on the bench.
“Hey.” Richard began thinking deeply on something.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“Did Kijus ever like…mention where he got Rejon from?”
“Um…I think he said he bought him from a cheap merchant and Rejon imprinted on him right after. Why?” I asked.
“What? Did you not see that thing leap over the perimeter wall and the fact that it can run twice as fast as a horse! I mean if we can get four of them for the team we’d raise the standard across the nation!”
“That’d be a chore. Kijus seems frustrated as is. He might not help, you know what happened to Rejon…and I’m pretty sure Rejon, just like Bazahra and Silver, is the last of his kind.”
“It’s a fucking stag!” Miles said, failing to see the significance of the animal.
“It’s more loyal than your horse will ever prove itself.” I said back sassily.
“Yeah man, I don’t know what Kijus did but…this thing had a rifle wound, stitches and massive blood loss yet crossed hundreds of miles of desert to get here simply because it was that close to him.” Richard laughed, amazed by the thought.
“Um… Maybe bestiality.” Miles chuckled.
“Dude, shut up…” Richard sighed, not liking Mile’s joke.
“What?” Miles laughed. Richard shook his head in disapproval. The entire time, Robin never broke his glare from me.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you here?” Robin asked.
“Really?” My brother asked him, coming to my defense.
“I needed to talk to my brother.” I laughed.
“Well go ahead…” Richard said.
“Nah,” I sighed, getting to me feet, “We can talk when your little entourage decides not to be burning rectum fluid with their shit for antics.”
I left and went back to my room. A few minutes later, Richard was at my door. He entered the room cautiously, still not sure just how far my boundaries were. We were not close at all we needed to learn each other. However, I meant no harm anymore, the past being the past… He found me sitting on the very uncomfortable sofas in the living area.
“I really need to redesign my room…” I said.
“What did you want?” He asked, quite curious.
“I wonder if you wanted to help me keep Kijus here as long as possible. I’ve decided on what I wanted to do. I kind of want to make him want to marry me and the only way how, is to give myself a chance to grow on him!” I said. Richard looked at me, a bit disgusted but mostly shocked.
“You want to get into his pants that bad? That’s like when you got into Jon’s pants and moved along to the next person when Jon was mad for you…” Richard said, lips curled into a frown.
“No that’s not what happened.” I said back.
“Man, Look at him! He is not even ready for marriage! The boy is more content with the present than the future. Don’t trap him either, Roi. I know how you can get when you’re feeling….rejected.” He said with a chuckle, trying not to sound too blunt.
“That’s why I need to buy some time. When Rejon gets better, I already know it. He’s gone. He wants adventure, it’s clearly obvious… All and all, I’m not what he wants but I feel like I could be if he’d just give me a chance!” I argued. Richard took a seat, sighing.
“Is that how you felt about Jon and the others before you like…  lost interest? Before you met Kijus, you had no desire to get married. You just want what you can’t have. If you keep on doing this crazy shit, you two are both going to end up very, very hurt…” He said, trying to keep it all brief. Richard was ridiculously intelligent with wisdom beyond his years. I was three years older than him, the boy being just eighteen. It made it hard to listen to him, especially when he had the tendency to be condescending and entitled. Then again, he tended to always be right. I was in quite a dilemma.
The situation only spiraled more as Kijus came to my door. I answered it, not sure what would bring him here.
“What did you do to that Jon kid?” He asked right off the bat. It rattled me to the core!
“What?” I asked back, trying to make sure I heard him correctly.
“Jon! The other day I was talking to him and when you came over he just left like…and then today when I was helping him with Chesnutt, he just became an almost entire full and open book.” He said as he took a seat next to Richard.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Um, he ducked and swerved with his words, but you could hear he was hurting. He said you two were going strong then you replaced him with some little slave boy a few months ago and started treating him different and eventually cut him all the way off. He said when he confronted you, you just failed to realize the wrong in your ways and flipped it all on him as though your infidelity could only be blamed by him!” Kijus said.
“I’m gonna kill that mother fucker…” I hissed, “I told Jon to never speak of this again.”
“But it’s your fault though.” Richard pointed out. I shook my head, not wanting these two ganging up on me.
“I don’t like dibbling and dabbling but the boy only told me this because he sees how close we’re getting. He’s either thinking I’m going to get hurt the same way he did, or he simply wants to wedge us apart… but that is beside the point… he’s hurting, Roi.” Kijus said back.
“After what he said to me, what’s the point in trying to fix it?” I asked.
“You never really gave him closure, Roi. At least have the respect to give him that. I mean you lead the boy own then dumped him for a random slave you bought…a girl at that! How can he compete with a girl? You deserved everything he said to you!” Richard sighed.
“See,” I began, “This is why I never like talking to you! You always try to make me feel like crap!”
“I never wanted… Roi… I don’t want anything but the best for you! You have to start wanting it for yourself…” Richard insisted.
“OH MY GOD, SHUT UP!” I yelled, losing my patience.
“Both of you...” Kijus warned. Roi and I looked at him. His voice had a steeliness to it that commanded both of us… We fell silent as he geared to continued, “Look, you never specified your definition of the relationship with him. You made things move so fast got into that boy’s head broke his heart. You took his damn virginity…”
“But, what’s the significance of a virginity though? I hear everyone juggle it around but, I don’t get it…” I asked.
“For a person, their first time can be such a big step, a big leap, it’s a lot of emotions involved. You’re breaking down walls and letting a person see you in your most vulnerable state. You connect with them in a very intimate and intricate way. For some people, it weighs heavy on them. They will never be able to forget the heat of their first moment.” Kijus responded. It put a lot into perspective for me. Not only did it answer why Kijus refused me but why Jon became so volatile afterwards. I never considered the level of emotion built up for someone to have their first sexual act. It made me think back on when I lost my virginity. Truly it was a tragic day, many, many years ago… and I am still wrecked by the thoughts.
“You just don’t know how selfish it is for you to simply take someone’s virginity and not have a care after!” Richard scolded. I could see the smolder in his eyes! Even Kijus was affected by it. But all and all, I was at a loss for words.
“...Well someone should have told that to Sir… Nevermind… So what am I supposed to do, go back to him, get down on my hands and knees and beg to him as though he means something to me?” I asked. Richard looked at me, wondering what was I about to say. He scratched his head, looking at Kijus, unsure if he heard me correctly.  
“No, but at least apologize to burry the hatchet. And, are you serious? He didn’t mean anything to you?” Kijus asked, deeply unsettled.
“It’s kind of hard to give a fuck about anyone when so many...” I said, choking on my words, “I did in the beginning… But I couldn’t go on with him.”
“Roi, just promise me you’ll never hurt anyone this way again though…” Richard sighed. I looked at him smolderingly. He didn’t know all I’ve been through and his words were really bothering me. Sensing this, Kijus cleared his through.
“Let’s take it one thing at a time. First thing first, Roi… Where is your self love?” He asked me. The question hit me hard. I looked at him, my eyes welling up with tears as thoughts from the past began to linger in my mind. How could I love myself when I’ve been cursing myself for things I couldn’t change about me, things that brought attention of the worst degree to me? That was one daunting feat I couldn’t dare prepare for. How could I answer this damned question?
Richard looked at me, unsure where these tears were coming from. He knew so little about it. I wanted to tell him everything so maybe he could understand the reason I am this way. But he was so imposing, so condescending, I didn’t want to even try.
“I don’t know…” I finally said back. Kijus could see something was deeply wrong with me.
“Well, you have to start, Roi. If you love yourself, it’s going to be so much easier to love others… So much…” He said, sympathizing with me. He spoke with the same wisdom of  Richard but much kinder, much more gentle. It made me want to always stay near him, never leaving his side.
However, he didn’t stay long. He got to his feet, sighing.
“I didn’t meant to make you cry… But we got to fix this. We got to start with some self love, Roi. I’ll see you in the morning.” He smiled. I didn’t want him to leave! He was everything my soul could want! It made me shake, watching him walk away.
The door slammed hard. I turned to my brother, having a lot to think about.
“You realize Kijus is just as much of a victim of your as Jon is right?” Richard asked. What he said cut me deep. I looked at him, not even upset… My eyes pleaded with him to shut the fuck up.
“Please, no more…” I begged, going to my bed.
“Come on, brother! You can’t walk away from this…” Richard insisted.
“Richard, please!” I said, losing patience.
“What’s with you…? You’re soft now…? Crying to your pillow instead of owning up to what you did wrong, wanting to blame everyone except yourself why what’s wrong?” Richard continued.
“I’ll do it…” I said, growing tired of his insistent droning in my ear.
“Very well.” Richard said.
In the dimming light, I went to the Aviary followed by both Richard. We went to the short wing aviary and indeed, Jon was there with Chesnutt. Richard stood out of sight, but in earshot. I couldn’t believe I was about to do this.
Jon was completely unaware that I entered the aviary.
“Hey.” I said. The boy was startled, turning to face me. His surprise quickly turned to disdain as he realized who I was. He had nothing to say to me.
“You still hate me?” I asked.
“Yes...” He said plainly, continuing to tie Chesnutt’s leather strappings.
“It’s okay, I hate me too.” I sighed, causing him to pause.
“Don’t start…” He warned.
“I came to apologize, to hope you understand that I’m a fuck up. I fuck shit up, all the time and I tend to not see the wrong in my ways. Well I do no…”
“No…” I said back, being completely truthful. It took him aback.
“So why are you here?” He cried.
“To apologize… I did you wrong…” I said, shaking my head. He looked at me, unsure what to make of this.
“And I guess you came expecting me to forgive you?” He said through the grit of his teeth.
“Look, I don’t care if you forgive me or not. I told you I’m sorry, for what I did and if you can’t accept it… it becomes your issue. This will not dictate how I lived my life… My guilt wears thin…” I said bluntly.
“I know it does… It always has… You’re not sorry… Your new lover is making you do this since you can’t hold water! You had to tell him everything…” Jon snarled.
“What? I don’t have a new lover…” I said back, unsure where he was going.
“Oh, so I’M BLIND? I see how you and KIJUS look at each other… I know you and him are a thing…” He said.
“Yes…” I said back, “You are blind… This is futile… I did my job.. I told you I’m sorry. I didn’t come to argue with you…”
“How can you say you didn’t come to argue when we never even resolved anything!” He said. I said nothing else, heading towards the door. Before I could leave, he rushed the door, preventing me from leaving, “What are you doing?”
He didn’t even know. It was clear his feelings were still there, but mine weren’t.
“I’m sorry…” He wepped, “...For whatever I did that made you cheat. Just please don’t walk away from me again…”
“It was nothing you did that made me cheat… I’m not… How can I keep you when I’m not happy with myself… I need to find out some things about who I am before I am ever ready for a relationship… It’s going to keep going the way it did.” I said back, hoping he would get what I was saying. I didn’t want to say no, plainly.
“But, I know why you did it and it is my fault. I couldn’t take Sir…”
“QUIT!” I shouted, not wanting to relive such a horrible point in my life. He heeded, knowing how deep rooted that pain was. Pitty filled his face…
“I know you, Roi… I know the things you’ve been through. I was wrong to walk away too… Nothing is ever perfect, which is something I understand! We’re all a work in progress.” He said.
“I don’t want to hurt you again…” I said, not wanting to rekindle these old flames.
“If you have to hurt me to get better, then I’ll let you. What we have is real, Roi.” He insisted.
“I know but…” I said, truly torn.
“You know what?” He asked, coming closer. I couldn’t resist him.
Two slender arms gently wrapped around my frame. His warm chest press against mine, his chin planting in my shoulder.  
“It’s just me and you…” He said, “No one else matters…”
“You know that’s not true!” I said breaking his embrace, “I got issues Jon, and I seriously don’t want to hurt you again…”
“Okay? Hurt me! I’ll still be there! I know why you’re doing it.. that’s all that matters to me, Roi… You’ve been hurt! It’s why you hurt me…” Jon said, full of understanding. My head slowly fell to his shoulder, tears falling down my cheeks. What if he truly would provide support like he said he would? It would make hurting him all the more taxing on me. The love I had for him was still there, just buried under deep, deep layers of pain. He understood though…
Despite this sweet embrace and a rekindled bond, there was a question in the air. What excuse would it be to hurt him because of my past pains? The fact that he was so understanding and so willing to commit made it very difficult to imagine hurting him. How could he help me get past it? What could he possibly do to make me grow after such terrible things happened to me? I didn’t know but I wanted to put every ounce of faith I had into him!
Our embrace drew to an end. We just stood face to face, holding hands, thinking of our rocky past.
“We both said some hurtful things…things we didn’t know would affect us the way they did. I will make it plain and clear my intent this time, rather than to get over on you. I want to be with you.” I said.
“Ok, just tell me things! Talk to me! We need to learn how to trust each other so we can communicate. It’s just you and me! Like I said, no one else matters! No outside people need to be in! We can keep it private and to ourselves if that is what we have to do to build trust.” He said firmly. I nodded, knowing this was going to be hard. I’ve never truly trusted anyone before and today would be the day to start…
“I thought you and Kijus had a thing…” Jon continued, quite relieved.
“No, he’s strictly about the business.” I responded, still thinking about what Kijus might look like underneath the robes and tights. The boy obviously had no idea how gorgeous he was. Jon just looked at me, a smile spreading across his face. The boy knew me better than I’d like to give him credit for.  
“I know you tried him…” He said.
“What?” I asked, taken aback by his blatancy.
“Don’t front. It’s all in your eyes! You wanted him but he didn’t want you. He probably was your true and utter wakeup call…” Jon said. I had never known Jon to be so raw and outspoken. I wasn’t quite sure if I liked it either, but it made him all the more alluring during this moment of tension. A smile came across my face.
“I guess so.” I giggled, blushing. Jon wrapped his arms around my neck, drawing me in for a kiss. It was straight fire! My insides were flustered as we had finally rekindled a flame we both considered extinguished. 
My brother seemed happy to know this went over well. Kijus met up with him, equally delighted to see Jon and I had made up. As things heated between Jon and I, Kijus and Richard made themselves scarce.  
“You think Roi will be fateful?” He asked.
“Maybe, but he’s still young so I wouldn’t put it past him… He’s full of raging hormones, wants and needs. He’s also a pretty demanding little cat and doesn’t like opposition in the slightest…but I can see he’s a challenger. If he doesn’t win the first go round he’ll get it one way or another…” Kijus said. Richard looked at him in surprise, not expecting such a response.
“I kind of like seeing them together. Jon is such a sweet kid ya know. But, I see what you’re saying. Now he knows how to deal with my brother, keep him wanting more and nothing less… Damn…” Richard sighed, “Curse my virginal status… I want to experience so more but the shit is scary…”
“Hey, you’re not the only virgin with fears…” Kijus chuckled, thinking a bit, “How’d your brother lose his virginity?”
“When I asked him, he’d get really defensive and say none of my business so I’m left to guess his first experience wasn’t all that good. But, it was enough to jump start his sexual craze…” Richard sighed. He was more so curious than condescendingly prodding.
“So do your parents know you’re gay?” Kijus asked.
“They know Roi is, found out when he was a kid and my father was just brutal on him for years after. If I told him I was, he’d probably commit suicide or something…” Richard chuckled.
“He keeps trying to put me on slave girls but I’m like…virgin for life all in front of him, but all and all, I’m gayer than Roi. Roi is just…fluid to put it plainly. He more so gets off on actual penetration and the idea of it rather than the idea of being attracted to subtle femininity, brooding masculinity, or more sensual stuff. He’s a rather simple, low maintenance type of guy comparatively, speaking.”
Kijus looked at the boy, full of skepticism.
“Really, he’s low maintenance?” He asked.
“I said comparatively speaking. If you don’t believe me, come see my room!” Richard responded.
The two boys took the brisk walk back to the palace. They entered Richard’s room and it was such a contrast from mine. It was black ebony wood on the floor, grey walls with white floor trims, vaulted ebony ceilings and more modern furniture. He even had a very expensive television set as well as various radios and receivers. His room was far more organized than mine too.
“Whoa.” Kijus said.
“And I don’t let any cleaning maids come to my room. I clean everything myself, because I have my own personal rituals that it seems the maids fail to follow. Everything must be alphabetized, numerated, folded, pressed, squeaked, scrubbed, and cooked the way I like it….I’m a bit of a brat.” Richard laughed.
“I have a tent…A bowl, and a hide to sleep on.” Kijus replied with an even heavier laugh.
“That sounds like it’s sooooo difficult…” Richard said, feeling empathy for Kijus.
“It’s actually not. This is difficult, living in a giant house where there is so much stuff to do to meet a specific custom. Where I’m from, we get up and go and that be it. I mean I’m starting to like it here a bit better, having to adjust and all, but I find this way of living to be a little too much.”
“Okay, I want to try your little style of living…It can’t be that damn good…” Richard smiled.
“Hey, I think this style of living is good, just too extravagant for me.” Kijus responded in his defense.
“I mean, I want to try something different. I generally have the same highly systematic routine, day after day.”  Richard continued.
“Yeah…maybe one day really soon we can do it. Right now, I got to make sure your brother doesn’t get Jon pregnant or some shit… he has to wake up early tomorrow to finally clean out Silver’s enclosure. God, it’s going to be an undertaking…” Kijus sighed.
“I’ll help.” Richard smiled.
“Ok, because two hands aren’t enough. Don’t wear anything cute tomorrow… we’re playing with poop.” Kijus said as he walked to his suite.
“Alright!” Richard laughed.
The next morning had come. I woke up startled to see both Richard and Kijus standing over my bed.
“Good morning…” Kijus smiled.
“Why are you in my room?” I asked.
“Well, we need to clean Silver’s enclosure and since it is a lot of work, we need to get started on it right away.” Kijus said. I looked at my brother. He had this oddly pleased smile on his face.  
“And you agreed to this?”
“Yep.” He laughed.
I climbed out of bed and walked the long distance to my closet.  I threw on the rattiest clothes I had and made my way down stairs.
“Are we even going to eat?” I asked.
“No…we can eat after… food will always be here.” Kijus said.
“UGH!!!!” I growled from displeasure.
We entered the aviary, heading towards Silver’s enclosure. Upon entering, the smell and condition of the room hit me. Poop was everywhere and many of the platforms were rotting and in need of a rebuild. Surprisingly there was plywood, nails and hammers already brought in. I already knew this was going to be an incredibly busy day.
Silver sat at the top of his perch as we spent hours scraping and cleaning the disgusting pin. It was heart breaking to know we kept him in such a decrepit location for years. As the middle of the day came, we finally had gotten all the crap out of the enclosure. Now that was left were some pieces of rotting wood.
Kijus stood there staring at the platforms. He chewed his fingernails, jostling his thigh anxiously.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m assessing something…” He responded.
Our attentions were grabbed when Silver jumped down and ran to the mesh. Standing before him was Bazahra. It was the first time either of the two had seen each other closely. They were cautious, completely unsure of each other. They then began mirroring each other’s movements until they were both running up and down the mesh.
“Wow…” I said.
“Someone help me pull up these nails!” Kijus said, standing atop the rotting platform.
“I got ya…” Richard said, hopping up after him.
“Careful, you can go right through this stuff.” Kijus warned.
“Alright.” He said.
A few hours later, we had gotten all the rotting plywood out and placed fresh the boards on the platforms. We then began sprinkling softwood pulp on the freshly cleaned floor. We looked at our finished work, feeling proud.
“Now it’s time to eat…” I sighed.
Things for our family have not gone this well in years. Days eventually elapsed into weeks. It was like a piece of heaven for us. Silver no longer needed to be kept in his enclosure, eventually imprinting on me. He and Bazahra got along well and Jon and I were still going strong. Despite the fact that we were doing well, Kijus seemed to become more and more withdrawn. When we encountered one another, his smiles lacked the same warmth of earlier. It was clear he felt trapped.
Of all people, Richard was the one to take notice. Kijus would often go missing for days at a time but like always, Rejon and Bazahra were in their normal locations. Eventually we found him one day. He was in the stables, sitting at a workstation writing a long letter. He had just received a huge sum of money from my father for his efforts. It seemed certain, he was leaving. It was more than heart breaking to stand here to see this.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Handling business.” He responded, still writing swiftly.
“You aren’t leaving are you?” Richard asked.
“I’m not…” He responded.
“It certainly seems like it.” I sighed.
“Like I told you before, I have a family to take care of…” He said.
“Are you leaving or not? This is kind of confusing…” Richard asked.
Kijus walked over to Rejon who was standing in his pin, eating some dried grass. At the sight of Kijus, Rejon whistled in delight. He grabbed Rejon’s reins and walked him out of the pin. He stuffed the bag of money into a pouch hidden under Rejon’s main. The giant antelope was lead out into the pasture. Richard and I followed, unsure what to make of Kijus’s bizzare actions. He had the letter in his hand rolling it up and placing it in the pouch.
“Go find ma.” He said softly to the antelope. He then slapped him on the hind quarters. The black stag took off in a blazing sprint, straight towards the perimeter wall.
“What is all this about?” I asked.
“My family needs money.” He chuckled. It was so bittersweet sounding to hear. The loneliness was written all in his eyes. Though he tried to hide it, he was no fan of this place. I was getting worried about him. Richard though, was just an utter ball of concern.
“Where have you been disappearing to, though?” He asked. A smile came across Kijus’s face as he walked back to the palace.
“Don’t worry about all of that.” He giggled, obviously wanting to keep his business extremely private.
“Well…” Richard started but didn’t finish. He didn’t want to say anything to offend Kijus. He sighed as he watched Kijus walk away.
We made it to the lounge of the palace. I could just see Richard was out of his mind concerned about Kijus.
“You’re mighty quiet…” I said. He looked at me.
“I just want to know where he disappears to and why…and HOW!!!!” Richard sighed.
“You must be getting really into him?” I asked.
“Truth be told, I was into him since that first breakfast.” Richard sighed clenching his head.
“I’m going to be a bad big brother and stay out if this because I simply don’t know how to advise you. I will say this though. You stand a much better chance at getting him than I do…” I laughed.
“I could never be the one to take our friendship to the next level…just the thought of even attempting it, makes me freeze. It’s like he’s on a higher level of being than I am and I can never amount to anything that he does! I just feel he’s just so unattainable.”
“That’s exactly how I felt but hey, it didn’t stop me.”
“Um, that’s because you like ass and holes and tight shit that throbs!” Richard teased. I couldn’t help but laugh at such an unexpected jab.
“But you also must look at this. So many people want you but you turn them down. They obviously feel the same way about you…” I laughed.
“They’d feel the same about you if you’d cut all that creepy hair off your head. Like, you can’t see your eyes or nose, only your chin and the tip of that pointy ass nose.” He continued.
“Yeah you’re right. It’s about time I start you know, taking care of myself.” I sighed.
“You want to go into town, to one of those…what are they called…. I read about them!!!!” My brother suggested.
“If it is food related, most certainly!” I smiled.
We got on horseback and went to the middle level of the city. There, we put our horses in the valet service and entered the restaurant. We took some seats in the rear hidden behind a veil. A server came to meet us. He handed us menus.
“Welcome to Gasto’s Mediterranean Cuisine. Are you ready to order?” He asked.
“No way…” Richard said, looking through the thin veil to a booth in the center aisle. I put down the menu, wondering what had grabbed his attention.
“What?” I asked. He pointed out to the booth. Sitting in a booth a little ways away was none other than Kijus. He constantly looked back, expecting an arrival at any moment. It was heartbreaking for Richard.  
“What the hell man…” Richard said, full of shock and hurt.
“He has his own little life besides us…” I chuckled, a bit surprised too.
“Who’s he here with?” I asked curiously. Richard looked at me hoping that he was simply here alone but chances were that he was seeing someone.
“Do you want me to come back?” The server asked kindly.
“No, it’s fine! I’d like some chukar tortellini with sautéed broccoli on the side. For a drink, I’d like some wine.” I said back.
“I’d like some charred salmon with assorted Alfredo pasta on the side.” Richard said.
“And what would like to drink?” The server asked patiently.
“I’d like some raspberry and mango tea.” He said.
“Alright, your food will be out momentarily.” The server said with a bow. He then left the veil, disappearing into the kitchen.
We both watched as an incredibly tall and handsome Illisian sat at the booth with Kijus. His complexion was slightly richer than Kijus. His eyes were the same vivid honey though. His brow structure was exquisite, protruding in a masculine way. The eyebrows themselves were rather thick but gave his handsome face much character. He wore glasses that added such appealing symmetry to his face. He had chiseled cheekbones, and a nose that was narrow but fanned into a rounded bulbous end. It gave him this fierceness that couldn’t be overlooked. His lips weren’t nearly as perky as Kijus, his having a more rounded and gentle crown. However they were quite juicy, the top being considerably darker than the bottom. That wasn’t a trait shared by Kijus. Both of Kijus’s lips were the same smoky bronze color. The Illisian’s hair was dark brown hair, the same as his complexion, loosely slicked back into dense curls. He just seemed so familiar. I had to know him from somewhere!
The two exchanged tense glares before they broke into laughter. I finally recognized him. He was a law enforcer of this kingdom. How he and Kijus met was beyond me but the two looked damn great together. However, there were so many questions. Were they a couple? Were they in love? Was this tall dark Illisian the reason Kijus was so hard to find for the past few weeks? Was this the very reason that made Kijus often seem like a rock in a hard place? More importantly, did Kijus and this Illisian have plans on marrying one another? If so this would be such a debilitating blow to my brother.
I looked to my brother who simply looked horrified. With such a gorgeous competitor for Kijus’s affection, I could see why he was experiencing such terror. The Illisian was taller; some might think more handsome and had more allure. The Illisian also just looked more exotic, well in Kijus’s case, closer to home. It was the closest thing Kijus had to home in this crazy land. Knowing my brother, he had already made this realization. This in itself was beyond crushing to witness.  


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